Anjali Sachdeva is wise, insightful, and just getting started

In Sachdeva's debut story collection, magical realism meets a keen eye for character.

I didn’t want to like Anjali Sachdeva’s short story collection as much as I did. The photo on the back shows an author who looks like she might have just turned 15. Pangs of envy. Then I read that she is an Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate, and I thought, oh great, more of that Lena Dunham millennial craft humor.

Then I read the book. Whereas most short story writers quickly find a comfortably identifiable niche—minimalism, relationship humor, domestic realism—Sachdeva is beyond that. These nine stories take several different ap­proaches while still managing to feel like the product of one voice. Her insightful eye ranges over (and in some cases inhabits) characters of disparate ages, times, places, scenarios, and struggles with the ease of someone who might have been there herself. And this is Sachdeva’s first book.

Sachdeva writes like a love child of George Saunders and Jhumpa Lahiri who managed to get the best genes from each of them. Like Saunders’s work, most of the stories contain a fantastical element. Occasionally this element veers toward sci-fi, such as the bloblike alien Masters of “Manus,” but more often it is subtle. Sachdeva also shares Lahiri’s keen eye for character. In her hands, magical realism is never merely a device, but the best way to concretize a character’s inner struggles.